Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Environmental disaster in southern Spain compared with Cretaceous mass extinction

Date:
February 12, 2010
Source:
FECYT - Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology
Summary:
Researchers in Spain have compared the disaster caused by the Aznalcóllar spillage in the Doñana National Park in Andalusia 11 years ago with the biggest species extinction known to date. What do these two disasters have in common? The scientists say that carrying out comparisons of this kind will make it possible to find out how ecosystems recover following mass extinctions.

Researchers have compared the Aznalcóllar disaster with the Cretaceous mass extinction.
Credit: SINC

Researchers from the University of Granada (UGR) have compared the disaster caused by the Aznalcóllar spillage in the Doñana National Park in Andalusia 11 years ago with the biggest species extinction known to date. What do these two disasters have in common? The scientists say that carrying out comparisons of this kind will make it possible to find out how ecosystems recover following mass extinctions.

Until now, scientists used to study the fossil record in order to analyse how organisms responded to major environmental changes in the past, such as the mass extinction of species during the Cretaceous period (65 million years ago) and their subsequent recovery.

Now a team of scientists from the UGR has proposed a different methodology: "Another way of looking at this issue is to compare present day disasters that have also caused an abrupt ecological change, and which have therefore also had a major impact on organisms," says Francisco Javier Rodríguez-Tovar, lead author of the study and a researcher at the UGR's Department of Stratigraphy and Palaeontology.

The study, published recently in the journal Geobiology, was based on "one of the worst environmental disasters to have happened in Spain over recent decades."

The pyrite mine at Aznalcóllar, in the Doñana National Park, burst on 25 April 1988, spilling four million cubic metres of acidic water and one million cubic metres of waste material containing high levels of toxic compounds, which affected more than 4,500 hectares of the rivers Agrio and Guadiamar and the land around them.

The researchers carried out a detailed analysis of how the pollution from Aznalcóllar evolved, and how the local plant and animal communities responded following the event, by studying the affected soil. "Comparing this with what happened 65 million years ago could help to better interpret this past event," explains Rodríguez-Tovar.

The similarities are obvious -- sudden impact, high levels of toxic compounds, and the existence of a polluted layer covering the affected area. However, the scientist also points out some of the most significant differences, such as recovery following the impact, which was "much faster after the disaster at Aznalcóllar," and in terms of the area affected, which was "global for the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary event," says Rodríguez-Tovar.

In search of signs of life

The scientists were able to carry out a range of experiments on the layers of mud that have not been removed from Doñana. Geochemical analysis showed that "there is still significant contamination, with high concentrations of toxic elements, and high acidity levels," stresses the palaeontologist. However, less than 10 years after the disaster, the scientists could identify trails and nests made by Tapinoma nigérrima, an aggressive and opportunistic species of ant. "We even found this ant's larvae just below the layer of highly-contaminated mud," explains the expert.

This ant's opportunism, aggressiveness and high levels of independence were compared with the organism that created Chondrites, a trace fossil that scientists have recorded near the red layer associated with the Chixulub crater in Mexico, generated by the impact of the meteorite that caused the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction. Previous ichnological studies (on trace fossils) have shown that "the Chondrites-generating organism was able to inhabit the substrate immediately after the event, due to its opportunistic and independent nature," says Rodríguez-Tovar.

Using the data on trace fossils and on comparisons with present day disasters, the scientists were able to prove that "the community started to recover fairly rapidly following the mass extinction caused by the impact 65 million years ago, possibly within hundreds or thousands of years," concludes the palaeontologist.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by FECYT - Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Rodríguez-Tovar, F.J.; Martín-Peinado, F.J. The environmental disaster of Aznalcollar (southern Spain) as an approach to the Cretaceous-Palaeogene mass extinction event. Geobiology, 2009; 7 (5): 533-543

Cite This Page:

FECYT - Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology. "Environmental disaster in southern Spain compared with Cretaceous mass extinction." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 February 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/02/100202101243.htm>.
FECYT - Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology. (2010, February 12). Environmental disaster in southern Spain compared with Cretaceous mass extinction. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 16, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/02/100202101243.htm
FECYT - Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology. "Environmental disaster in southern Spain compared with Cretaceous mass extinction." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/02/100202101243.htm (accessed September 16, 2014).

Share This



More Fossils & Ruins News

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Researchers Explore Shipwrecks Off Calif. Coast

Researchers Explore Shipwrecks Off Calif. Coast

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) — Federal researchers are exploring more than a dozen underwater sites where they believe ships sank in the treacherous waters west of San Francisco in the decades following the Gold Rush. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Museum Traces Fragments of Star-Spangled Banner

Museum Traces Fragments of Star-Spangled Banner

AP (Sep. 12, 2014) — As the Star-Spangled Banner celebrates its bicentennial, Smithsonian curators are still uncovering fragments of the original flag that inspired Francis Scott Key's poem. (Sept. 12) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Spinosaurus Could Be First Semi-Aquatic Dinosaur

Spinosaurus Could Be First Semi-Aquatic Dinosaur

Newsy (Sep. 11, 2014) — New research has shown that the Spinosaurus, the largest carnivorous dinosaur, might have been just as well suited for life in the water as on land. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Meet Spinosaurus, the First-Known Water Dinosaur

Meet Spinosaurus, the First-Known Water Dinosaur

AFP (Sep. 11, 2014) — Spinosaurus aegyptiacus was adapted for both land and water, and an exhibit featuring a life-sized model, based on new fossils unearthed in eastern Morocco, opens at the National Geographic Museum in Washington on Friday. Duration: 01:02 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

    Environment News

      Technology News



      Save/Print:
      Share:  

      Free Subscriptions


      Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

      Get Social & Mobile


      Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

      Have Feedback?


      Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
      Mobile iPhone Android Web
      Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
      Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
      Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins